A new banana promises to cure blindness in East Africa
March 31, 2016 5:51 AM   Subscribe

"In the winter of 2014, students at Iowa State University received emails asking them to volunteer for an experiment. Researchers were looking for women who would eat bananas that had been genetically engineered to produce extra carotenes, the yellow-orange nutrients that take their name from carrots. Our bodies use alpha and beta carotenes to make retinol, better known as vitamin A, and the experiment was testing how much of the carotenes in the bananas would transform to vitamin A. The researchers were part of an international team trying to end vitamin A deficiency. The emails reached the volunteers they needed to begin the experiment, but they also reached protesters. “As a student in the sustainability program, I immediately started asking questions,” said Iowa State postdoc Rivka Fidel. “Is this proven safe? Have they considered the broader cultural and economic issues?” ... Fidel told me she and her friends had found it nearly impossible to extract information from researchers, or from the Gates Foundation, which is providing funding for this project. Too often conversations about these kinds of issues simply reverberate within their respective echo chambers. So to bridge the gap I took the gist of the students’ questions to people at the Gates Foundation, scientists working on the banana, and the one person who may have done the most to fight vitamin A deficiency — an ophthalmologist who has no interest in either promoting or bashing GMOs."

Vitamin A Super Banana in human trials Nature Biotechnology
The first human trial to test the efficacy of a genetically modified (GM) nutritionally enhanced banana is starting in the US. Conceived by researchers at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane, Australia, to provide a good source of beta carotene, the Super Banana has $10 million in backing from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The genetically enriched, golden-colored banana may help prevent blindness caused by vitamin A deficiency in Ugandan children whose diets are deficient in this nutrient (Nat. Biotechnol. 30, 1017–1019, 2012). But leaders of the banana project are embarking on a historically precarious path. Golden Rice, the previous GM crop developed to alleviate vitamin A deficiency in the poor, met fierce hostility and regulatory hurdles that have plagued its development for 15 years. The rice still hasn't been commercialized in its target country, the Philippines. Whether the banana will meet a similar fate remains to be seen.

The economic power of the Golden Rice opposition Environment and Development Economics
Vitamin A enriched rice (Golden Rice) is a cost-efficient solution that can substantially reduce health costs. Despite Golden Rice being available since early 2000, this rice has not been introduced in any country. Governments must perceive additional costs that overcompensate the benefits of the technology to explain the delay in approval. We develop a real option model including irreversibility and uncertainty about perceived costs and arrival of new information to explain a delay in approval. The model has been applied to the case of India. Results show the annual perceived costs have to be at least US$199 million per year approximately for the last decade to explain the delay in approval of the technology. This is an indicator of the economic power of the opposition towards Golden Rice resulting in about 1.4 million life years lost over the past decade in India.

Globe-Trotting GMO Bananas Arrive For Their First Test In Iowa NPR
posted by Blasdelb (65 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thank you GMO scientists. You are heroes.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:09 AM on March 31, 2016 [36 favorites]


And I don't mean the ones who gave themselves super powers, that's just selfish vanity. Stick to solving malnutrition.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:10 AM on March 31, 2016 [48 favorites]


Globe-Trotting GMO Bananas Arrive For Their First Test In Iowa

I would watch any show with this episode synopsis.
posted by Etrigan at 6:16 AM on March 31, 2016 [12 favorites]


And I don't mean the ones who gave themselves super powers,

The Golden Banana, and trusty sidekick, Carrot Teen
posted by otherchaz at 6:16 AM on March 31, 2016 [36 favorites]


Thank you GMO scientists. You are heroes.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:09 AM on March 31


This a billion times.
posted by glaucon at 6:18 AM on March 31, 2016 [5 favorites]


The Golden Banana

That has a WHOLE DIFFERENT connotation where I come from (NSFW)
posted by briank at 6:19 AM on March 31, 2016 [5 favorites]


This is a great post, I especially love that it's tagged both "SuperBanana" and "SuperBanana!"
posted by everybody had matching towels at 6:22 AM on March 31, 2016 [10 favorites]


It reminds me once again that genetic modification is a tool, and not inherently good or bad. It's all about what you use it for.
posted by jb at 6:31 AM on March 31, 2016 [10 favorites]


the premise is a lie though. kids aren't being killed by "vitamin A deficiency," they are being killed by extreme poverty: poor diet, high parasite load, lack of access to health services.


Unfortunately these type of (solved) problems are also occurring in the Western world. The UK has a problem with iodine and vitamin D deficiency both of which are addressed via fortification in many developed countries but run into opposition from the know just enough to be dumb anti-additive crowd. So you see an increase in rickets and 1/3rd of young women risking developmental disabilities in their offspring.
posted by srboisvert at 7:06 AM on March 31, 2016 [8 favorites]


ennui.bz, of course the main problem is extreme poverty. But that's no reason to oppose stuff like this. Fixing extreme poverty is going to involve essentially rebuilding our entire global economy and society. That's a worthy goal and I don't think we should shy away from doing what we can to accomplish it.

But in the meantime, there's problems with vitamin A deficiencies and that can be addressed a lot more quickly. The fact that it doesn't solve the root problem doesn't make trying to address vitamin A deficiencies a bad thing.

I'm always baffled by people who seem to think that developing short term solutions for immediate problems is deceptive, or in some other way bad. Let's try to address easily preventable blindness due to vitamin deficiencies **AND ALSO** try to address the systemic problems of poverty. The two are not mutually exclusive, and addressing one does not harm the other.
posted by sotonohito at 7:10 AM on March 31, 2016 [19 favorites]


[Folks, let's not immediately drive this off into the weeds of different countries with different problems, or the global economic system? Lots to talk about with the links and the specific actual topic here.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:14 AM on March 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


And I don't mean the ones who gave themselves super powers...The Golden Banana, and trusty sidekick, Carrot Teen

However, scientists must take the blame for creating the evil clone Beta Carrot Teen.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:22 AM on March 31, 2016 [18 favorites]


According to Wikipedia, Uganda is the second largest grower of sweet potato (ipomea batata) in the world, after China. Sweet potato already has tons and tons of beta carotene, and it apparently grows well there. Anyone know why there is resistance to eating sweet potato instead of banana? Is it cultural (we've always eaten banana) or is the sweet potato too expensive for home consumption, I.e. it's their cash crop?
posted by permiechickie at 7:32 AM on March 31, 2016 [4 favorites]


Globe-Trotting GMO Bananas Arrive For Their First Test In Iowa

SFX: Sweet Georgia Brown
posted by zamboni at 7:40 AM on March 31, 2016 [7 favorites]


Well, if you're Bill and Melinda Gates, you can't cure the extreme poverty, full-stop. What they CAN do, is develop a better banana that helps to treat one of the symptoms of that poverty.

And these problem aren't unrelated. One of the hardest things about being homeless and trying to bootstrap your way out of that situation is not having a home. Give people housing and they're a LOT more successful at keeping it.

I imagine that it's kind of hard to help an area pull itself out of extreme poverty when a a bunch of it's people are blind.
posted by VTX at 7:47 AM on March 31, 2016 [8 favorites]


Fifteen comments in and no "GO BANANA?"

Metafilter, I am disappoint
posted by entropicamericana at 7:48 AM on March 31, 2016 [6 favorites]


According to Wikipedia, Uganda is the second largest grower of sweet potato (ipomea batata) in the world, after China. Sweet potato already has tons and tons of beta carotene, and it apparently grows well there.

According to this NPR article the type grown there there didn't, but they are working to spread breeds that do.

But since it's not a GMO, I guess no one is a hero.
posted by nom de poop at 7:50 AM on March 31, 2016 [7 favorites]


sotonohito: “of course the main problem is extreme poverty. But that's no reason to oppose stuff like this. Fixing extreme poverty is going to involve essentially rebuilding our entire global economy and society. That's a worthy goal and I don't think we should shy away from doing what we can to accomplish it.

“But in the meantime, there's problems with vitamin A deficiencies and that can be addressed a lot more quickly. The fact that it doesn't solve the root problem doesn't make trying to address vitamin A deficiencies a bad thing.

“I'm always baffled by people who seem to think that developing short term solutions for immediate problems is deceptive, or in some other way bad. Let's try to address easily preventable blindness due to vitamin deficiencies **AND ALSO** try to address the systemic problems of poverty. The two are not mutually exclusive, and addressing one does not harm the other.”


I don't think we should oppose "short term solutions." But I think it's probably a very good idea to be very cautious of them. The "Green Revolution" was supposed to solve the problem of starvation by giving people a way to grow higher-yield grain and therefore get much more nutrition from fewer plants. But while that was certainly a fine thing, it certainly didn't end starvation, and it's hard to say whether it will have the benefit it probably ought to have in the long term. There's certainly plenty of famine and starvation in the world today – and now we can see clearly that most of it is caused not by low crop yields, but by social and political problems.

I'm not sure we can be certain that a good "short-term solution" will actually solve anything if we don't have a social and political solution in place to make sure the solution gets to the right place. At the very least, it seems like a good idea to spend some time thinking over social and political impacts and implications.
posted by koeselitz at 7:52 AM on March 31, 2016 [7 favorites]


According to Wikipedia, Uganda is the second largest grower of sweet potato (ipomea batata) in the world, after China. Sweet potato already has tons and tons of beta carotene, and it apparently grows well there. Anyone know why there is resistance to eating sweet potato instead of banana? Is it cultural (we've always eaten banana) or is the sweet potato too expensive for home consumption, I.e. it's their cash crop?

Cultural and agro-climatic conditions.

INTERNATIONAL POTATO CENTER: WORLD SWEETPOTATO ATLAS: UGANDA
Of all Uganda's major food crops, sweetpotato is the most widely and evenly distributed, but production is generally concentrated in densely populated regions of mid altitudes, from 1,000 to 2,000 meters above sea level (masl), mostly in the southern region closer to Lake Victoria. Sweetpotato is often a major crop in areas where relatively low precipitation favors it over matooke, a variety of cooking banana which has long been popular in Uganda. In some areas where cassava production has declined due to mosaic virus disease (Hakiza et. al. 2000) or where banana cultivation is threatened by black sigatoka disease, sweetpotato cultivation is expanding to fill the gap (PRAPACE).

Sweetpotato cultivation does not always conform to its most suitable agro-climatic conditions. In areas of central and southern Uganda where conditions are ideal for sweetpotato, matooke is the primary staple. Here, sweetpotato is considered secondary, especially in terms of social status by the Buganda people of the area, and so is not cultivated to the fullest extent possible (Hall et. al. 1998).
posted by zamboni at 7:52 AM on March 31, 2016 [9 favorites]


From the OP's last article: "HarvestPlus's biggest success so far is the deep-orange sweet potato, which was introduced in Mozambique and Uganda. That crop requires no regulatory approvals, since it was created by cross-breeding existing varieties, rather than through genetic engineering. This sweet potato also packs a dose of beta carotene several times bigger than what's in the new super banana." So why mess with the banana? And where can I get some of those sweet potatoes?
posted by mareli at 7:54 AM on March 31, 2016 [3 favorites]


And I don't mean the ones who gave themselves super powers,

The Golden Banana, and trusty sidekick, Carrot Teen


There is an old strip club on Rte. 1 in north suburban Boston called the Golden Banana. Nobody has superpowers there.
posted by xingcat at 7:57 AM on March 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


Vandana Shiva, a prominent critic of GMOs and of Golden Rice in particular, argues that the Green Revolution (the push to increase farm yields in Asia and South America with modern seeds and chemicals) caused nutrient deficiencies by replacing dietary diversity with uniformity. But this argument falls flat in the case of vitamin A deficiency. [...] If it’s not industrial agriculture that causes vitamin A deficiency, perhaps it’s agriculture in general. When humans stopped hunting and regularly eating liver, they lost a prime source of vitamin A

this is just all weird and wrong to me. industrialized crops reduced the number of small-time growers which reduced crop diversity by magnitudes. it also made it so that local growers were forced to compete with huge, multi-national growers who could afford expensive, patented, and hardy GMO seeds. this meant that a lot of local, small-time growers had to grow only specialty, exportable crops like coffee instead of more nutritious staple crops that could be sold locally at much lower prices without import costs. the rising prices in staple crops could only lead to decreased buying power in everybody who wasn't a direct beneficiary of globalized markets and, accordingly, malnutrition becomes an issue

I also understand the 'Green Revolution' as a kind of population graph staggering cultural imperialism. provide developing nations with Westernized crop practices that leads to a huge population boom, pat yourself on the back for it, and then don't provide these countries the resources to manage and feed these populations once the population growth becomes exponential and the population graph explodes at the bottom. whether or not this was just a conspiracy to induct a bunch of cheap labor into a globalized market hungry for fast fashion and consumer electronics, I don't know, but I do know that that's essentially what's happened

Researchers developed Golden Rice in partnership with the biotech company Syngenta, and the company retained its patents to control the rice.

which was a huge part of the issue, right? and why the anti-GMO group has more than a few valid points against GMOs here

When I asked Baker at the Gates Foundation why they had decided to fund this project, he explained that it could provide a systemic solution. It’s attacking the cause

the systemic issue isn't vitamin deficiency, it's centuries worth of colonialism paired with globalization paired with poor oversight at the local government level paired with the IMF's terrible loaning procedures paired with protectionism on the part of industrialized nations forming trading consortiums. I think pairing an open-sourced banana seed with local, Ugandan farmers is great. but this is a lark. the vast majority of GMO crops are not developed with the intention of saving millions of lives. and the companies they are developing for are very much part of the issue of malnutrition and poverty that's widespread

there's an insane amount of PR coming out of biotech groups nowadays that completely skirts the real issues. I think they'd rather paint anti-GMOers as groups of nutty anti-vaxxers (which some of them are) while setting themselves as a bunch of Norman Borlaugs shod of the real impact the Green Revolution had on local farming practices
posted by runt at 8:04 AM on March 31, 2016 [20 favorites]


Conveniently, there are ready-made avatars for both the Anti-GMO and Pro-GMO factions.
posted by zamboni at 8:06 AM on March 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


At the very least, it seems like a good idea to spend some time thinking over social and political impacts and implications.

This is the key problem with the "perfect is the enemy of the good" way of thinking. While all that careful thought and consideration is going on, people on the ground pay the costs. It's not uncommon for things at the international and UN levels to take years to hash over and discuss, then years again to implement. Meanwhile, as described in the links above, millions of kids in many developing countries will not make it to adulthood. It needs to be acknowledged that "some time thinking" involves many people dying in the interim.

That's the frustration that lead the Gates to build their foundation, and why they're behind these sorts of initiatives. If it costs the international development agencies nothing, I am continued to be stunned by how many ideas are blocked or impaired by folks who only ultimately want something that fits their preconceptions of what a solution (and it's always a singular solution) should look like. Delays, conservatism, even the choice to do nothing, are all political decisions that have real human costs.
posted by bonehead at 8:08 AM on March 31, 2016 [20 favorites]


So why mess with the banana?

From zamboni's text: Here, sweetpotato is considered secondary, especially in terms of social status by the Buganda people of the area, and so is not cultivated to the fullest extent possible (Hall et. al. 1998).

Practically, changing a major cultural foodcrop is difficult and will take a lot of time.

Ideologically, this is outsider arrogance. Telling people to eat this crop instead of that is cultural imperialism.
posted by bonehead at 8:24 AM on March 31, 2016 [3 favorites]


I didn't see in the articles but I wonder if the bananas are or are planned to be grown at Iowa State. Bananas are already grown there in a rooftop greenhouse. It's a weird place to grow bananas but a great place to do science. It could be a coincidence, but a big deal was made of the bananas on the roof when I was there.

The fight against GMO products that could actually do good for people just baffles me. There have to be studies and tests, of course, but I worry that if after this banana research is done it's found to be safe and effective for Vitamin A deficiencies it will meet the same fate as Golden Rice. I can see the argument against GMO if its only intent is to increase yields and profits, but fighting something that could possibly do so much good frustrates me.

Proud yet again to be an ISU alum
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 8:27 AM on March 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


bonehead, I fail to see how saying "if you eat more X and less Y you will not have so many health problems" is cultural imperialism. Truth, facts, reality, are not products of Western imperialists.

I will agree fully that trying to get people to change their diet is very difficult, look at America's love of too much meat, too much sugar, and too much fat, and generally just too much food for example. But fact based health and diet issues can not be arrogant or imperialist.
posted by sotonohito at 8:31 AM on March 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


At the very least, it seems like a good idea to spend some time thinking over social and political impacts and implications.
...
That's the frustration that lead the Gates to build their foundation, and why they're behind these sorts of initiatives.


I'm pretty sure that the Gates Foundation does spend some time thinking over social and political impacts and implications, though.
posted by Etrigan at 8:34 AM on March 31, 2016 [3 favorites]


"I also understand the 'Green Revolution' as a kind of population graph staggering cultural imperialism. provide developing nations with Westernized crop practices that leads to a huge population boom, pat yourself on the back for it, and then don't provide these countries the resources to manage and feed these populations once the population growth becomes exponential and the population graph explodes at the bottom. whether or not this was just a conspiracy to induct a bunch of cheap labor into a globalized market hungry for fast fashion and consumer electronics, I don't know, but I do know that that's essentially what's happened"
The Green Revolution didn't cause the population boom, it came just in time after the population boom started, what it did was stop the boom from busting and starving people to death by the billion. The staple crop strains that Norman Borlaug developed, prevented what would have been the greatest genocide in human history - dwarfing all of the wars of the last thousand years. He did what no supposedly moral army could when he stopped the logical and seemingly inevitable conclusion of the five hundred years of brutal naked theft that was colonialism emptying the resources of societies colliding with the benefits of germ theory.

Fuck nuclear fire, the world without the Green Revolution that you are envisioning is the worst conceivable timeline. It is a world where only the white wealthy west would have both the agricultural resources to survive and the military resources to protect them. It is a world quickly filled only with bright shining white faces explaining away their agricultural wealth as representing some kind of inherent superiority and feeling good about their moral choices with regards to diet, where a great re-populating Generalplan Ost would have not only feel justifiable but inevitable and right in the ruins of anti-colonial failure.

If the Green Revolution was some kind of conspiracy to keep the developing world down, weirdly authored by a dude who turned down high paying jobs and left his wife to raise his family without him in order to live amongst the world's poorest in rural Mexico, it failed miserably. Because of the Green Revolution and the enormous agricultural wealth it created, the developing world is now rapidly developing. Outside of notably destabilized exceptions, the developing world is quickly overtaking the West in collective economic power as it raises billions of people out of poverty.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:36 AM on March 31, 2016 [48 favorites]


I fail to see how saying "if you eat more X and less Y you will not have so many health problems" is cultural imperialism. Truth, facts, reality, are not products of Western imperialists.

Can telling a farmer, "we know best: grow this instead of that" be imperialism? I think so. It isn't going to involve changing a culture? Science often isn't perfect knowledge of local practices, and the histories of development are full of similar choices made for the reasons that looked right at the time. Are you 100% certain of that truth? Promoting the abandonment of a major culturally important crop, with outsiders as the arbitrators of that truth gets hairy fast. That sure looks like an old paternalistic development model to me.

Why are options bad here? Why must the only answer be "switch to this crop you don't like" because of your discomfort with GMO politics? How can can you justify taking that decision, to adopt a GMO crop or not, away from the people who need to live with the consequences?
posted by bonehead at 8:47 AM on March 31, 2016 [3 favorites]


There's also the simple fact that bananas are ready to eat straight off the tree (er, plant).
Have you ever tried eating a raw sweet potato?
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:02 AM on March 31, 2016 [3 favorites]


Can telling a farmer, "we know best: grow this instead of that" be imperialism? I think so.

I think it **CAN** be. But I don't think is always is.

And yes, it will involve changing a culture. Cultures change, adapt, and evolve, that's life. Having a mass epidemic of blindness and a high infant and childhood mortality rate also changes a culture, I'd argue for the worse.

I am not 100% certain of anything at all. But I'm certain enough that people eating a diet containing insufficient carotenes will, if there aren't vitamin fortified foods available or vitamin supplements available, result in a whole host of health problems for that people, including vastly higher rates of blindness.

If fixing that problem involves Golden Rice or these bananas I'm in favor. If it involves recommending that the society in question eat more X and less Y, I'm in favor. If it involves both (as I suspect it probably does), then I'm in favor.

I'm also in favor of actions that are likely to help alleviate the crushing poverty that is endemic to the region and is also a factor in the health problems.

I'm in generally in favor of taking action which is likely to help alleviate the problem.

The idea that there is only one acceptable way to address the problem is, I think, a very bad idea. The idea that truth, reality, must be abandoned due to past and ongoing evils of Western imperialism is also a very bad idea.

But the idea that somehow truth, reality, are Western imperialist concepts and we must shield the innocent people of Uganda from truth, because that'd be an imperialist act, seems preposterous to me. Diets short in carotenes are unhealthy and produce blindness and a high death rate. Period.

Why are options bad here? Why must the only answer be "switch to this crop you don't like" because of your discomfort with GMO politics? How can can you justify taking that decision, to adopt a GMO crop or not, away from the people who need to live with the consequences?

Options are good, I never said they weren't. Are you perhaps confusing me with someone else? I also never said that GMO foods were inherently bad. I strongly advocate for making options available to the people in any context, and especially in this one. I doubt they'll chose to keep having an epidemic of blindness and early death if they know that either switching diet or adding GMO bananas, or both, can greatly alleviate the problem.

You seem to be under the misimpression that I favor some sort of invasion force of paternalistic Westerners to come in and order the Ugandan population to switch diets or whatever. I don't. I favor developing Golden Rice and this banana and making it available to the people of the world so that they can use them if they choose.
posted by sotonohito at 9:07 AM on March 31, 2016 [4 favorites]


Atom eyes, this type of banana (cooking banana, or matooke as another user posted) is more starchy than sweet, and is usually steamed or cooked in some way before being eaten.
posted by permiechickie at 9:09 AM on March 31, 2016 [7 favorites]



the systemic issue isn't vitamin deficiency, it's centuries worth of colonialism paired with globalization paired with poor oversight at the local government level paired with the IMF's terrible loaning procedures paired with protectionism on the part of industrialized nations forming trading consortiums. I think pairing an open-sourced banana seed with local, Ugandan farmers is great. but this is a lark. the vast majority of GMO crops are not developed with the intention of saving millions of lives. and the companies they are developing for are very much part of the issue of malnutrition and poverty that's widespread

Vs.

Children going blind when they don't need to.


Like there's a decision here?
posted by storybored at 9:13 AM on March 31, 2016 [7 favorites]


But the idea that somehow truth, reality, are Western imperialist concepts and we must shield the innocent people of Uganda from truth, because that'd be an imperialist act, seems preposterous to me. Diets short in carotenes are unhealthy and produce blindness and a high death rate. Period.

My core principle here is that the people affected by the decisions should be the primary decision makers. That's the only way to avoid imperialism. Disenfranchisement is bad. Shielding farmers by banning GMOs internationally or preventing them from being developed is exactly that, removing a choice that may be culturally, locally, environmentally more acceptable than switching to a non-GMO alternative. I don't know that at all, but I do think taking that choice away the individual farmers (and the people who buy their produce) is arrogant and imperialistic.

You seem to be under the misimpression that I favor some sort of invasion force of paternalistic Westerners to come in and order the Ugandan population to switch diets or whatever.

We've crossed wires here, I think. My point is that reducing the available range of options by categorically banning some crops and not others, as many activists do, is imperialism.
posted by bonehead at 9:17 AM on March 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


sotonohito: "bonehead, I fail to see how saying "if you eat more X and less Y you will not have so many health problems" is cultural imperialism. Truth, facts, reality, are not products of Western imperialists.

I will agree fully that trying to get people to change their diet is very difficult, look at America's love of too much meat, too much sugar, and too much fat, and generally just too much food for example. But fact based health and diet issues can not be arrogant or imperialist.
"
Just as a general thing, whenever I find myself thinking in black and white terms like this, and I often do, I've found its usually an indication that I'm missing something that my privilege is blinding me to and usually its more related to values than the facts I just naturally tend to hyperfocus on.

There is a long and sordid history of 'social justice' campaigns that boil down to "Why can't poor people just act like us?" and ignore the root reasons for why poor people are poor to begin with, particularly those related to why 'we' are rich, along with the many good and smart reasons poor people live in the way they do. In this case, I think by viewing it in this restrictive lens we would be failing to value the culinary knowledge, preferences, and culture of the people whose lives we're talking about in a way I think is really fucking important. To say "if you eat more X and less Y you will not have so many health problems" is not inherently imperialistic, but how that as a solution could easily ignore the reasons why diets consist of the things they do, require complex cultural and culinary introduction, destabilize fragile agricultural economies by shifting demand, and devalue how important what we eat is to who we are is meaningful.

I think the best way to avoid this kind of value blindness that is kind of inherent to being a privileged person looking at the problems of underprivileged people is to get solutions from the people affected by those problems, which is whats happening here.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:23 AM on March 31, 2016 [17 favorites]


Like there's a decision here?

I suspect that it's trivial to be utopian when their kid isn't going to go blind when they raise their middle finger to the Monsantos of the world.
posted by Talez at 9:44 AM on March 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


koeselitz I can agree in part with some of your reservations. Short term good things can be used as means to produce longer term bad things by a sufficiently forward thinking opponent.

OTOH, it's awfully hard to see a problem of this scale and not try to address it in a timely manner. Especially since the longer term solution involves rebuilding the entire planetary economy and meta-society, which is not a project that has any guarantee of success and even if it can be accomplished will take decades.

In terms of possible losses for the side of right and justice, we basically have Monsanto getting some positive PR and the people who have a kneejerk anti GMO attitude becoming slightly less credible. Though, really, I think on this issue they're losing credibility from the outset because positioning themselves as the people seeking to keep a status quo where a lot of kids go blind isn't really going to get much support.

The long view is both good and necessary. But we can't allow the long view to paralyze us in the short term.
posted by sotonohito at 10:10 AM on March 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


this type of banana (cooking banana, or matooke as another user posted) is more starchy than sweet, and is usually steamed or cooked in some way before being eaten.

Thank you, permiechickie. Your superior banana knowledge has made a monkey out of me!

posted by Atom Eyes at 10:20 AM on March 31, 2016 [8 favorites]


I recommend that folks read the entirety of the World Sweet Potato Atlas entry on Uganda, rather than just the bit I quoted, plus the ProMusa entry on Uganda bananas to get an idea of constraints on growing, storing, and transporting the two different crops in that country. You can't just replace one with the other.

The short version is that southern Uganda has little seasonal variation and has a long harvest season, but northern Uganda is constrained to harvesting fresh sweet potatoes for roughly July through October. Sliced and dried sweet potato gets you through to the cassava season, although they're experimenting with fresh storage. Bananas are particularly important to western Uganda, and is more of a highland crop. Having local sources is important - most sweet potatoes and bananas are eaten locally, and roads to more remote areas get flooded out in the rainy season.

On the matter of culture, I think I've figured out something that I saw repeated in a kind of confused manner across different articles about Ugandan matooke.

So, the Bantu peoples include 300-600 groups across Africa, united by a common family of languages. In a number of Bantu languages, including Luganda, the major language of Uganda, mmere is the word for food.

Remember the Buganda of southern Uganda?
In areas of central and southern Uganda where conditions are ideal for sweetpotato, matooke is the primary staple. Here, sweetpotato is considered secondary, especially in terms of social status by the Buganda people of the area, and so is not cultivated to the fullest extent possible (Hall et. al. 1998).
If you turn up to a southern Buganda market and ask for mmere, you're not asking for food. You're asking for bananas.

Telling them to just eat something else is going to be a hard sell.
posted by zamboni at 10:20 AM on March 31, 2016 [14 favorites]


I am learning so much about bananas in this thread and it's making me very happy. I had no idea you could make beer from bananas, and the traditional matooke preparation sounds delicious. I can definitely see why people would like to keep their traditional food, and if GMO can help them get some extra nutrients in it, more power to them.
posted by permiechickie at 10:35 AM on March 31, 2016 [3 favorites]


I have no idea if there is any actual banana in it or just flavoring, but try Well's Banana Bread beer if you ever see it. Goes great in a Black and Tan with chocolate stout.

I too want to try the traditional kind though.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:39 AM on March 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


we basically have Monsanto getting some positive PR

Monsanto has nothing to do with this banana project.
posted by JackFlash at 10:43 AM on March 31, 2016 [11 favorites]


It's taken me a long time to realize this, but the American Left has an anti-science wing that's every bit as extensive (and wrong) as the Right's anti-science wing. It comes in the form of being against vaccinations, pro-woo medical treatments (e.g. homeopathy), and anti-GMO foods. It scares me.

Anybody who argues against the green revolution (and I unfortunately hear it a lot, even amongst people who ought to know better) is arguing that we should have let a billion people die rather than breed crops for higher yields. Remember Paul Erlich and his predictions of doom? Erlich was right, and all of his horrifying predictions would have come true if not for the green revolution. Norman Borlaug saved a billion people's lives. Was the green revolution perfect? No. Did it create some unintended consequences? Yes. But it's gross to argue that those consequences are somehow worse than letting a billion people die.

It is incredibly ironic to me that people consider it more morally pure to let children die than to save their lives by breeding more nutritious foods. These breeding programs are the least imperialist thing we can do - we aren't marching in, trying to change people's lives or their diets. We're just working to improve the foods they are already eating so their kids don't die. Bananas aren't even native to Africa, for fuck's sake, so it's not like we're disturbing some sort of ecological purity to improve their nutritional value. And the entire program is designed and run by a Ugandan, so it's not like westerners are marching in and taking over local people's ability to determine their futures.

All I know is, when you're arguing that we should let children die rather than help them out of a sense of moral purity that you are very much on the wrong side of history.
posted by zug at 10:49 AM on March 31, 2016 [24 favorites]


Also, I work on vitamin A deficiencies in Africa, so I can probably clear up some of the confusion on sweet potatoes and the like. Africa, instead of eating wheat (for the most part), gets its starch from a few different plants: sweet potatoes, cassava, and plantains. There are dozens of less eaten staple grains, like teff, millet/sorghum, and rice (which is actually becoming a staple grain in some parts of Africa), but those are the big 3.

Sweet potatoes come in two basic varieties - the orange-fleshed sweet potato, which is what we typically see in the US, and the yellow-fleshed version that is essentially just like a regular potato - all starch, no nutrition. The reason people don't typically eat the orange-fleshed version in Africa is because it's less hardy and disease resistant, and stores much more poorly than the orange-fleshed version.

You see the same thing with cassava/manioc - cassava contains a bunch of anti-nutrients (chemicals that bind nutrients and prevent your body from utilizing them) and toxins like cyanide. There are bred versions of cassava that have fewer anti-nutrients and lower levels of cyanide, but locals don't prefer them because they are much less pest resistant. You can leave high-cyanide varieties of manioc in the ground for months without them rotting, which is key to avoiding starvation in the event of failures of other crops.

Plantains/starchy bananas are the last main staple in Africa I mentioned. Bananas are nutritious and rot, plantains are non-nutritious and don't rot (see the commonality? nutritional value makes crops more attractive to pests and often causes crops to rot faster, which you definitely do not want in a staple). Getting some of the vitamin A from bananas into plantains has been a goal for a long time, but bananas are... a mess, from a breeding standpoint. Basically all bananas are clones - they no longer reproduce sexually, which makes it really hard to breed, as they mention in the article. This new plantain is GREAT and I hope it is able to catch on (many improved nutrition varieties do not). It will save a lot of kids from blindness and death.
posted by zug at 11:04 AM on March 31, 2016 [38 favorites]


I'm mystified by this weird sense that there is some kind of trade off between addressing extreme poverty and addressing Vitamin A deficiency, as if the world can only ever do one thing at a time and as if these two efforts were not in fact the same thing in this context. If introduced successfully, these bananas will contribute towards building a healthier, more prosperous, and more stable Uganda with more physical and economic strength to address its many problems. It will contribute to lower rates of disability, more women empowered with fewer pregnancies by lower infant mortality, healthier farming communities that will have more power to demand more of the global economy, less dependence on a western world that is manipulative when it isn't just callously racist for security, and less reliance on often parasitic western medical and economic aid.

This will be farmers growing their own food security, independently of Western charity once the first bananas are shipped.
Drinky Die: "I too want to try the traditional kind though."
Oh man, a Rwandan post-doc in a lab I rotated through once taught me how to make banana wine the traditional way. Now you can too:

You will need

-20-25 lbs ripe bananas. Gros Michel or apple bananas, much less proper Imbire bananas, would be better if you can get them but Cavendish works.
-5 lbs fermented sorghum flour
-A fistfull of hay or alternatively a good champagne yeast
-Fermentation equipment for about 5 gallons

Directions

-Slice the bananas into rings and dump them in your mash tun
-Add the sorghum flour and bring to a boil (this will also benefit from yeast nutrient, a few pounds of raisins and something to bring the pH down a bit if you're not worried about tradition)
-Bring the temperature down and add the hay, or alternatively the yeast
-Transfer the wort into your fermentation vessel
-Dig a hole in the ground, burn out the hole, fill the hole with more hay while its still warm, place your fermentation vessel inside of it and cover with hay. Alternatively just keep your vessel somewhere temperature stable but warm-ish.

It will come out less than a week later as something beautiful that you could totally use as jet fuel, but the harshness will all age out into something amazingly subtle if you let it.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:27 AM on March 31, 2016 [12 favorites]


But it's gross to argue that those consequences are somehow worse than letting a billion people die. It is incredibly ironic to me that people consider it more morally pure to let children die than to save their lives by breeding more nutritious foods. These breeding programs are the least imperialist thing we can do - we aren't marching in, trying to change people's lives or their diets.

are red herrings high in beta-carotenes too or are you just being disingenuous? I'm not sure anybody here trotted out something that pithy

like I said, enabling local farmers with unpatented GMO banana seeds is great and it averts a lot of the issues that keep developing nations from remaining beholden to financial, political, or developmental recourse. I don't think the Green Revolution was a mistake. I think it's amazing that agriculture industrialized at a speed in which we were able to avoid another Malthusian disaster

that said, I think that the Green Revolution also produced a lot of outcomes that we could stand to learn from that we aren't learning from because of how attached we are to possessing savior complexes. dependence on fossil fuels isn't super great for preserving the longevity of the human race, monoculture, soil erosion, and pesticide usage isn't that great either, and, like I've said, globalized markets and the preachy, 'do it this way, bye' programs that the West likes to implement in order to assuage but never really confront or remedy their colonial guilt means developing nations aren't provided with durable, long-lasting programs that they can, themselves, sustainably develop

these bananas address a lot of these concerns. Golden Rice did not. the vast majority of GMOs and biotech firms don't give half a shit about any of this especially if it cuts into longterm R&D and profits. you can choose to play identity politics with the whole GMO/anti-GMO discourse in order to ignore the faults but that's your personal perspective, not some sort of universal morality
posted by runt at 12:27 PM on March 31, 2016 [5 favorites]


Fuck nuclear fire, the world without the Green Revolution that you are envisioning is the worst conceivable timeline.

the world without the Green Revolution means a population depressed Pakistan, Mexico, and India, not some kind of post-apocalyptic wasteland where the white man failed to pick up his burden. the Green Revolution never took hold in African nations or in China or anywhere else. and you don't have to look very far into the past to find out why African nation states tend to be politically unstable and are thus unable to produce gains in agriculture

Mao was the only thing that kept the Chinese starving, though. well that and centuries worth of lax taxation and supervision on the part of the Qing
posted by runt at 12:50 PM on March 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


are red herrings high in beta-carotenes too or are you just being disingenuous? I'm not sure anybody here trotted out something that pithy

|I also understand the 'Green Revolution' as a kind of population graph staggering cultural imperialism.

|people a way to grow higher-yield grain and therefore get much more nutrition from fewer plants. But while that was certainly a fine thing, it certainly didn't end starvation, and it's hard to say whether it will have the benefit it probably ought to have in the long term.

The green revolution saved a BILLION LIVES. If anything is disingenuous, it's claiming that it wasn't a success because it failed to save everybody in every single case. The green revolution is literally the most effective humanitarian project ever undertaken. There is no other case in history of a technology being so impactful for so many of the world, and it disproportionately saved the lives of the world's poor. The West would have been fine without the green revolution, it's Africa and Asia that would have starved to death.


like I said, enabling local farmers with unpatented GMO banana seeds


If you don't even understand what the researchers are trying to do or why using GMO techniques to take the beta carotene gene from bananas was necessary (hint: bananas don't have seeds), how can you possibly properly weigh the benefits or costs?

I'm not trying to be flippant here, but it is incredibly frustrating to argue with people who see no difference between improved beta-carotene green bananas and roundup-ready soy. They aren't even in the same universe as one another. It takes an incredible amount of blindness to one's own privilege to argue that we should avoid this kind of food technology when that would involve human deaths on a scale never before seen in history.

It's also simply too late - that ship has sailed. It is now literally impossible to feed the world without industrial agriculture, and agrotech is barely keeping up with the growth in need. We're in a Red Queen race and failing to use every possible technology to increase crop yields in the face of massive climate upheaval will only result in mass starvation and suffering.


the Green Revolution never took hold in African nations or in China or anywhere else


You are simply wrong. It has taken over everywhere but Africa, and getting Africa to adopt high yield crops is one of the keys to keeping up with global food demand over the next 30 years.


the world without the Green Revolution means a population depressed Pakistan, Mexico, and India, not some kind of post-apocalyptic wasteland where the white man failed to pick up his burden.

"Population depressed" is an ugly euphemism for mass starvation. Do you not understand the kind of political upheaval starvation causes and how the world would be worse in nearly every way if we hadn't figured out how to feed the world's population? The US wouldn't have starved, Europe wouldn't have starved, we would have been able to pay increased prices. Only the developing world would have starved. Is that what you honestly think should have happened? "Population depressions" in the rest of the world while the global rich dined on steak?
posted by zug at 1:05 PM on March 31, 2016 [14 favorites]


If anything is disingenuous, it's claiming that it wasn't a success because it failed to save everybody in every single case

so it's free from any criticism whatsoever? elucidate, for me, the link between Borlaug's efforts and modern-day GMO and biotech practices where strands of DNA are patented and farmers are sued for reusing patented seeds

. It is now literally impossible to feed the world without industrial agriculture, and agrotech is barely keeping up with the growth in need

sure, I agree with this. I don't like the practices of biotech industries or multinational corporate farms or forcing nation states into unfair trade agreements. if there's something disingenuous, it's the identity politics that have been created for this whole GMO/anti-GMO crap. I like GMO as an abstract tech. I don't like a lot of the people who work in the industry and I severely dislike industry practices and how they play out on a geopolitical scale. does this make me anti-GMO? or could it be that identity politics are interfering with people's ability to engage with a complicated issue in any meaningful way?
posted by runt at 1:27 PM on March 31, 2016 [6 favorites]


these bananas address a lot of these concerns. Golden Rice did not.

Could you expand on that? How was golden rice different?
posted by Drinky Die at 1:43 PM on March 31, 2016


Golden Rice was patented by a private corporation and developed without input from local growers and sellers. their licensing agreement to provide local growers with the crop for free is determined by a privately held 'Humanitarian Board' which can, presumably, revoke the needs status after Golden Rice has become a staple crop

that, in my view, is a non-ideal solution compared to these GMO bananas which are, as far as I can tell, patent free. my view is that you shouldn't trust a for-profit consortium of biotech corporations as far as you can throw the weight of their combined board members
posted by runt at 1:52 PM on March 31, 2016 [6 favorites]


“As a student in the sustainability program, I immediately started asking questions,” said Iowa State postdoc Rivka Fidel. “Is this proven safe? Have they considered the broader cultural and economic issues?”

As a student in the sustainability program, I would hope you would be interested in researching that any way you could. By eating some bananas, for example.

I couldn't find a side by side comparison, but maybe I missed it in text - how do the "Golden" bananas compare visually to the traditional ones? My understanding was that the appearance was one of the social obstacles golden rice never overcame.
posted by maryr at 2:44 PM on March 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


Anyway, if we can't cross genes between species of bananas that you basically can't interbreed by traditional methods anymore (therefore genetic manipulation is the only practical way to alter them) then we're never going to get anywhere with GMOs, because this is about as ideal a case as you can get.

Meanwhile, between a couple different diseases, genetic modification will be coming to bananas, probably from a non-banana source organism and probably not to the nutritional benefit of anyone. How'd you like them papayas?
posted by maryr at 2:58 PM on March 31, 2016


Time will tell, but if they really do have a good crop (good production, good taste, etc) and this can catch on, then I can see a lot of good coming out of this and similar projects.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:16 PM on March 31, 2016


I was fortunate enough to work with one of Norman Borlaug's colleagues, and I would be hard put to think of a man less imperialistic and more immersed in the cultures where he worked over the decades (Mexico, Nepal, and Colombia). The Green Revolution had its failings, but the people doing the work had their priorities right.
posted by acrasis at 5:21 PM on March 31, 2016 [3 favorites]


Another colleague of mine developed a GMO papaya that is resistant to papaya ringspot virus. Papayas are also rich in Vitamin A.
posted by acrasis at 5:45 PM on March 31, 2016


So I am not at all an expert in matooke cultivation, but I was under the impression that established plantations were harvested for many many years before replanting. Does anybody know whether this is actually true? I'm wondering if it will take a long time to get large numbers of these things growing once they're available to people.
posted by gerstle at 7:50 PM on March 31, 2016


By the way, Vandana Shiva is a total kook and a liar. She claims to be a physicist when she's really a philosopher, claims that GMOs cause autism, and said that "saying that farmers should be free to grow GMOs which can contaminate organic farms is like saying rapists should have freedom to rape". She's opposed to GMOs on what are essentially religious grounds (she claims GMO stands for God, Move Over, and says stuff like "You cannot insert a gene you took from a bacteria into a seed and call it life. You have not created life, instead you have only polluted it.") She's also opposed to chemical fertilizers and nuclear energy because both things were originally created as weapons of war, and thus inherently bad.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:33 AM on April 1, 2016 [5 favorites]


"Golden Rice was patented by a private corporation and developed without input from local growers and sellers. their licensing agreement to provide local growers with the crop for free is determined by a privately held 'Humanitarian Board' which can, presumably, revoke the needs status after Golden Rice has become a staple crop

that, in my view, is a non-ideal solution compared to these GMO bananas which are, as far as I can tell, patent free. my view is that you shouldn't trust a for-profit consortium of biotech corporations as far as you can throw the weight of their combined board members
"
This is a ridiculous collection of bullshit that is trivial to falsify by just looking shit up.

The golden trait and the process for creating it were developed by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which is a non-profit organization that has been primarily dedicated to breeding the dwarf trait into locally available strains of rice so that they could be grown efficiently and to saving the world's rapidly decreasing biodiversity of rice strains in seed banks. Back in the 60s they saved lives by the hundreds of millions by preventing famine in South and East Asia and have been dedicated ever since to working with farmers around the world to improve rice strains. However, these days most of what they do is save wild and local strains with 127 thousand rice accessions and wild relatives, their bank is by far the largest and most diverse collection of rice genetic diversity in the world. They have stronger connections with the world's rice farmers than anything else in the world, having actually worked with farmers everywhere for the last half century. These aren't a bunch of business men, or privileged yuppie activists who've never touched a winnowing basket and think they know whats best for brown people, but the scientists, farmers, and plant breeders from around the world who have been setting about the work of putting this world right for the last half century.

With additional funding from the Helen Keller Foundation and the Gates Foundation, they did the work of developing the Golden Rice trait and breeding it true into hundreds of locally appropriate strains, not some shadowy corporation. They did however use tools developed by Monsanto, who aren't the devils you think they are, and Syngenta, who absolutely are, to do it. This legally required the IRRI to get licenses for the tools they used, which Monsanto provided for free immediately and Syngenta provided with the stipulation that the rice never be used for commercial purposes. Thus the golden trait will forever be perfectly free to anyone who could actually use the trait, its meaningless to anyone who could afford to pay real money for it anyway. This is the Humanitarian Board you put scare quotes around, just look at that list of fucking names and see if you think those guys will take their life's work of establishing food security and flush it down a toilet to make fractions of a penny on the Helen Keller Foundation's dollar.

The beauty of the golden trait as a solution for Vitamin A deficiency is that rice can travel where aid workers with needles in land rovers cannot, it does not immediately spoil even in tropical climates, it is value dense, and it is self replacing. What makes Golden Rice so amazing and useful in ways nothing else can be is that Rice has existing local infrastructure for growing it and distributing it even where international commerce does not reach in exactly the areas affected by Vitamin A deficiency. The commercial value of it that you seem to be hyper-focused on is and will always be entirely irrelevant to its true value to humanity because the trait is already pretty much worthless to anyone who can afford to buy it off of a shipping container from a corporation rather than an NGO that can fix prices for starter seed to whatever is locally appropriate. All that is needed is the seeds, thoughtful education campaigns, and for activists who don't know a damn thing about what is important in agriculture or aid work to get out of the way.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:03 AM on April 1, 2016 [12 favorites]


http://www.goldenrice.org/Content2-How/how9_IP.php
Industries are set up to develop products. Thus, an industrial partner was sought that would agree to the humanitarian purpose of the project. Such a partner was found with Syngenta, an agrichemicals and seeds company with headquarters in Switzerland. Syngenta was instrumental in converting the proof-of-concept results generated at the University of Freiburg and ETH Zurich into deliverable products. This contribution was based on the understanding that Syngenta would retain commercial exclusivity for the technology, including large agricultural setups in developing countries
my issue with the Humanitarian Board isn't who is on it, it's with how much power the IP holder can exert over 1) who is on it, 2) who can replace members, and 3) how strongly the board can defend the qualifications for humanitarian needs against the IP holder. I don't know a whole lot about humanitarian use licenses since they're a relatively new legal invention but suffice it to say that I tend to think that the people who have the most funding for their legal teams and lobbyists tend to have the most power

and don't kid yourself about 'using tools by Syngenta'. that IP holder page clearly states that Syngenta is the primary holder of the license
posted by runt at 7:57 AM on April 1, 2016


Golden rice has perception and political problems because of licensing. The seed is free to use for anyone earning less than $10,000 per year growing the rice. This sounds great because the poor of the world come nowhere near earning $10,000 per year.

But Syngenta retains the right to charge large commercial growers. Commercial growers have no incentive to create a market for more costly golden rice seed so they use their political power to prevent approval in their countries. They don't want consumers to become accustomed to the more expensive golden rice seed so they block all attempts to test it with poor farmers. The commercial growers are the ones with the political power.

This is not an issue for the vitamin-fortified bananas which have no licensing restrictions.
posted by JackFlash at 8:59 AM on April 1, 2016


I don't know a whole lot about humanitarian use licenses since they're a relatively new legal invention but suffice it to say that I tend to think that the people who have the most funding for their legal teams and lobbyists tend to have the most power
You seem to be arguing that there is some kind of legal scenario that the IRRI has not foreseen that could hurt the food insecure subsistence farmers that they are helping somehow, but I suspect thats not the place you're coming at this from at all. You seem to be spending an awful lot of effort trying to invent ways for the IRRI and the farmers they're working with to be the sucker somehow, but sound contracts are sound contracts no matter how much money one party has. This non-profit board is composed exclusively of non-corporate members, most non-profit boards internationally replace members through either a majority or consensus vote of the board, and Syngenta has already freely given up the non-commercial rights (farms with revenues under 10 grand) that matter. This shit honestly is not that hard or mystical.

The only thing Syngenta can do is charge commercial farmers a fee for rice with the golden trait that would be destined to end up in a shipping container as a commodity on the global market, which would be absolutely appropriate. That Syngenta would be able to charge this fee whether these commercial farmers were in Thailand or Alabama is also entirely fucking appropriate. The point of golden rice isn't to end up on a shipping container, though it would be great if it did and Syngenta got something out of helping out the project while rich people get to feel connected in some small way to biotechnology and the problems faced by the world's poor, the point is to end up in contexts that couldn't be commercialized anyway on farms too small to monetize on the global market.

This weird paralyzing faith in the inherent evil and omnipotence of corporations, regardless of context or evidence, that is so common in lefty communities is just as cripplingly destructive as the cognate irrational fear of government that is so common in right wing communities. They both turn the healthy citizen oversight that is desperately needed to make our capitalist system work for us, rather than just capitalists, into this kind of mess of loose associations and conspiratorial thinking. We genuinely need an informed public eye acting as a watchdog to keep the agricultural industry honest and healthy but, like with so many other complex regulatory issues, eyes that compulsively see danger everywhere are no longer actually watching. If you were handed the Humanitarian Board's incorporating charter and were shown to your satisfaction that there is indeed no way for Syngenta to perform some kind of hostile take over, as if that were even a thing that happens to active healthy non-profits, would you even care? Just how unfalsifiable is your faith that these farmers and scientists are deluded or stupid?
posted by Blasdelb at 9:08 AM on April 1, 2016 [7 favorites]


If you were handed the Humanitarian Board's incorporating charter and were shown to your satisfaction that there is indeed no way for Syngenta to perform some kind of hostile take over, as if that were even a thing that happens to active healthy non-profits, would you even care? Just how unfalsifiable is your faith that these farmers and scientists are deluded or stupid?

I mean, I'd trust an independent legal evaluation by disinterested IP lawyers with experience in international law. short of that, sure, I'll stick with my biased, lay opinion of the legal implications of this licensing agreement just as much you'll stick with yours

and hey, do us both a favor and dial your tone down a bit

and to respond to zug's comment about Asia's agricultural revolution:

that has way more to do with really terrible and overburdening political oversight (ex the Great Leap Forward policy whereby farms are all shut down in favor of making really crappy and unusably brittle metals) than it does with Borlaug's specific work or any international effort. Chinese agriculture, at the very least, with its irrigation and rice farming, is a very different thing than the work Borlaug did with industrialized farming. I think there is something to be said about looking at something from more than just the very specific and narrow agribusiness R&D angle
posted by runt at 2:24 PM on April 1, 2016


Answer: very unfalsifiable.
posted by gilrain at 4:00 PM on April 1, 2016 [8 favorites]


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